Courtesy of Craig Lewis

Black entrepreneur leveling the playing field for gig workers

Taking big risks paid off, resulting in a payment platform that helps businesses and workers succeed.

Summary

The concept of how we work is changing and Craig J. Lewis, founder and CEO of Gig Wage, is leveraging the power of fintech to support flexibility in the workforce – and he has an eye on how it can elevate underserved communities.

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Craig J. Lewis, founder and CEO of Gig Wage, a platform that streamlines and manages independent contractor payments, started his entrepreneurial journey on the court. In college, he played Division I basketball. During these years, he honed the qualities that are essential to launching a successful company: teamwork, discipline and courage.

After graduation, Lewis seamlessly transitioned his passion for the game into the business world, finding his home in the payroll and payments software industry at ADP. He fell in love with the technology and, over the course of 12 years, moved more than $10 million in product.

In 2012, Lewis wrote “The Sport of Sales: How to Become a Superstar Sales Pro.” “I couldn’t help noticing the similarities between sports and business,” says Lewis. “Interviewing is like trying out for a team, and you’re competing against other people.”

With a knack for sales and a sophisticated understanding of payroll technology, Lewis took another risk. He fired himself just as he was rising in the ranks.

Lewis wanted to make big ideas happen, so he decided to start his own company that focused on the needs of a growing but neglected population. People were eschewing the traditional workforce and creating their own sources of income. The gig economy had taken hold. And as exciting as the movement was, these newfound 1099 workers were also experiencing inefficiencies in the payment process.

So, in 2014, Lewis launched Gig Wage, headquartered in Dallas. It was the first payroll technology company to cater specifically to independent contractors. With it, contractors could get compensated for their assignments quickly and easily – making money and credit management easier.

The gamble paid off.

Today, Gig Wage has 35 employees, all of whom are completely remote – a decision Lewis made even before the COVID-19 pandemic intensified the work-from-home trend. Investors wanted in. To date, Gig Wage has raised nearly $16 million in venture capital backing.

“Our core mission is to drive overall economic empowerment while helping businesses and workers succeed,” says Lewis. “More than 150,000 independent contractors take advantage of our system. They include photographers, bloggers, therapists, nurses, Santa Clauses, referees, comedians, divers, freelance journalists. Really any profession!”

How innovation improves diversity

“Innovation is extremely important but a lot of firms have left certain groups out of the system,” says Lewis. “I’ve made sure that my company is extremely diverse, but that’s not how it is across the board in other industries. As a Black man, I would have a tough time if I wanted to start a traditional bank, but fintech allows for top-down diversity. That means we are able to build our company with a diverse lens. It’s an exciting time.”

According to Lewis, prior to a few years ago, inclusivity was a provocative idea and not necessarily embraced by the majority. Now, though, he believes that people are genuinely concerned about the lack of diversity in financial services and want to change it.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement, but access to technology has allowed us to kick the door open faster,” says Lewis. “We can take our destiny into our own hands. You don’t need permission to do anything.”

What credit means to underserved communities

The concept of credit and debt in the Black community can be scary, says Lewis.

When Lewis was a teenager, his mother took the steps to make sure he not just understood key financial concepts, but took action to build his credit early. She got him a pager and put the account in his name, and opened a credit card with him. The action was powerful. He created a credit rating and learned to handle his financial affairs.

“The most basic way to participate in the economy means using and building credit. It’s absolutely what you should be doing; it’s part of success,” says Lewis. “But the Black community has been both underserved and undertaught. Because of this, they don’t have equal access to the capital they need to live the American dream.”

Another major issue, says Lewis, is that banking and lending was developed for people who work within the old system of standard employment. When people earn money in nontraditional ways, they don’t fit the mold for a lender’s assessment because their income fluctuates. Independent contractors and freelancers, therefore, have special challenges when qualifying for home and car loans, credit cards and business credit products. The entire credit qualification process was not developed for this population.

“Women, Black and brown people, the LGBTQ+ community, they have similar problems,” says Lewis. “In the past, the underwriting process was designed intentionally to keep them out.”

How Lewis uses credit now

The plastic Lewis loves now? A charge card designed for disruptors, of course.

“I have the card I’ve been wanting as soon as it was introduced,” says Lewis. “It’s the Brex card for startups. Mine is the limited edition gold card which has a really nice design on it. It’s a fully customized account, so I get to pick my perks from a menu of options.”

The tiered rewards are especially compelling. The Brex card comes with 8X points on ride-share, 5X points on Brex travel, 4X points on restaurants, 3X points on recurring software, and 1X on everything else. At those rates, the points add up fast.

“I can even get the rewards back in cryptocurrency,” says Lewis. Brex cardholders can redeem their accumulated points for Bitcoin and Ethereum, the first such rewards program for businesses. For a fintech expert running an innovative company, it’s a perfect match.

Changes in fintech are on the horizon

Financial institutions are beginning to take note of the different needs of the wide span of consumers and workers. Lewis predicts that credit products will become less general, and will cater instead to people from a variety of backgrounds and occupations.

“There will be credit products designed for unique groups, such as mechanics, gig workers, this or that type of business,” says Lewis. “It’s inevitable, and it’s positive. I’m bullish.”

In fact, Lewis aims to create a unified, level playing field for the entire working world, and to give gig workers the support and infrastructure they need for security and to get ahead. He wants to make sure they have the same rights to retirement accounts, sick leave, and paid time off that people in traditional jobs have.

“Everyone in the alternative work economy deserves these things,” says Lewis. “We have to support, not drive out, gig workers. Legislation is antiquated, because there is an assumption that everybody wants to have a 9-to-5 job. That’s not true. This is how people want to live and work, they want freedom and flexibility. I believe the government will eventually get it right because you can’t stop people from creating their own jobs.”

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